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Motivations of a Rising Power

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Motivations of a Rising Power

In the general sense, a rising power refers to a country that has the sufficient potential to play a more prominent role in international relations than it has played before. The impact of a rising power is very important in the literature of international relations theory, as a rising power often changes the distribution of power between makor powers in the international system.

For scholars familiar with the rise and fall of great powers over the centuries, emergence of a great power in the international system can be understood within the context of a clash between a dominant power and a rising power. When a second ranked great power rises to near equality with a dominant power, this rising power is inclines to initiate war to obtain the status and rewards denied by the traditional international order9. It is because a rising power is usually dissatisfied with the existing international order, it naturally desires to change international system through belligerent means

However, this need not be the case. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, rising powers have no reason to rush to challenge the existing status quo. This is because rising powers have strong incentives to avoid major conflicts with a dominant power and simply wait, since given time they can achieve even more advantageous position from which to challenge the status quo.

Moreover, it is not necessarily the case that a rising power will always go to war with the dominant power, as, for example, the United States did not go to war with the British Empire at the turn of the twentieth century, even when it surpassed the British Empire to become as the dominant power. From theoretical perspective, rational rising powers prefer costless choice and tend to avoid unnecessary war. Some irrational rising powers like Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, on the other hand, often fail to reach stable great power status because they wage unreasonable major war in the process of rising.

However, this does not necessarily imply that the strategic motivations of rising powers will be benign and calm. Even though rising powers often claim benign intentions to reassure other countries, these are often disregarded, not only because other powers know that rising powers have incentives to conceal their intentions, but also because their intentions may change when their relative status and circumstances change. Once a rising power achieves a dominant position in the international system, it may change its policy and strategy to reflect its new capabilities and the new international environment. As a matter of course, domestic causes such as the nature of political regime, the briefs and perceptions of political leaders, and government-society relations will affect the new course taken by the brand-new dominant power.

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